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2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata Road Test: Unraveling the Legend

Trying to figure out why people love this thing so much

Ah, the Mazda Miata. An icon. A staple. A stalwart in the automotive world that has inspired an almost cult-like following among the more than 1 million people who have put one in their garage over the last 30 years. But, for some people, Miata isn't always the answer. At least, not for me.

I've never seen the appeal of the Miata. It's always been too slow, too wallowy through the corners, and too impractical to live with — and it's not like it has particularly good looks going for it, either. When I told my editors this, they naturally headed straight for their pitchforks. But before they burned me at the stake, I persuaded them to hand me the keys to a 2022 Miata for a week to see if maybe, just maybe, I'd have a change of heart.

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But before we start that journey, know this: I'm not here saying I don't like the Miata simply because I'm fed up with my colleagues gushing about the thing. I'm not here to rub you the wrong way or go against the grain just because. I have plenty of automotive predilections that you'd consider cliché; a love for the Miata just isn't one of them. Why? Continue on, dear reader.

The first reason is cars like the Miata are heinously impractical. My ownership history includes a 2013 Volkswagen GTI, a 2006 Audi S4 and, most recently, a 2019 Honda Civic Type R. You'll notice a trend: These cars are both fun to drive and usable every day. Suitable for a trip to Home Depot and a good rip on a back road. The Miata is good at just one of those things, so if you want a Miata, you have to own two cars.

By that logic, the Miata is relegated to weekend duty, and I can't see myself yearning for its keys when Sunday morning comes. It's just not special enough to be "the weekend car," and it's not worth suffering through its inherent livability issues on the day-to-day. An old Boxster, a Boss 302 Mustang and a C6 Corvette Z06 are cars that I'd get up early to drive, cars I'd be more than happy to own a second car for the sake of. The Miata simply doesn't have the same appeal.

"But those cars are expensive!" I hear you shout. Well, so is the Miata. In Grand Touring trim with its new-for-2022 Platinum Quartz Metallic paint and brown leather interior (not pictured), the little Mazda I'm peddling costs north of $33,000. That kind of cash is more than enough to get your hands on every sports car I just listed. Sure, the Mazda has reliability going for it, but no one who wants an old 'Vette thinks, "Yeah, I'm sure this won't cost a dime in maintenance." If you're buying a car (of any kind) you're taking a risk. That's just how it is.

So then where is the Miata's merit? I don't think it's in the way it handles. The ND generation of Miata has suffered from springs that are far too soft since it first arrived on the scene all the way back in 2015. In the corners, it heaves over onto its outside wheels, and you feel like you're in a dingy being sideswept by a huge wave. In fact, this is a heritage thing — Miatas have always had extra body roll baked in, ostensibly to increase driver engagement.

Personally, I think Mazda's just trying to add to the sensation of speed and distract you from the fact that the four-cylinder under the hood makes just 181 horsepower. It doesn't weigh much, but neither did the Honda S2000, and that car made 240 horsepower all the way back in 2003(!). Thankfully, the clutch is nice and light, the shift action of the manual is short and direct, and the view out of the Miata is unmatched; no blind spots to speak off, a million miles of headroom, and a great view out of the front all make for great drivability. I'll give it that much.

But there is one more thing. The Miata might be the last car on sale today where the driver is just as important as the car itself. Without you, the Miata really is just another car — a relatively uninspiring one at that. Cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Shelby GT350R have a certain vigor about them, even when they're sitting still. Not the Miata. But once you hop in, drop the top and go for a drive, you realize something very quickly: The Miata wants you to push it — hard. In turn, it pushes you to have a good time and drive flat out. And it needs that energy from you to be at its best.

In other words, the Miata forces you to engage with it, which is something most of today's tech-laden cars couldn't really care less about. It forces you to be a good driver, and you won't feel like one until you've driven it properly. No pretenders are allowed in the driver's seat. There is no smart cruise control, no auto rev matching and no clever adaptive suspension. There's just a stability control that's either on or off, three pedals, a notchy little gear lever and that free-revving four-banger. You have to do the work, and the reward is a feeling of mastery.

I get it now. Mazda's venerable roadster isn't special the way a BMW M2 CS or Corvette with a big, burly V8 is, but the way it makes you feel at the limit certainly stacks up. The Miata might not be enough car for you, but if you actually pay attention and drive like you actually care about, well, driving, then you're more than enough for it. I think that's why so many people love it so much. And you know what? I can live with that.

Edmunds says

I'd still have a 987 Boxster, though.